Despite the fragile cessation of hostilities in Syria violence, continues and the need for unfettered, sustained humanitarian access remains critical.
The Syria war has lasted five years. It’s time that we refocus our attention on finding a durable solution and, in the meantime, reaching the millions of innocent Syrians trying to survive the seemingly endless war.
I joined leaders from Oxfam America and the Syrian American Medical Society at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on March 3, to discuss the latest news from Syria at the club’s signature “Newsmaker” event.
Here are the top five questions and my answers from the news conference:
We’re standing two blocks from the White House. What more can the U.S. and Europe do?
We need to shift much of the aid from short-term, immediate relief to funding and programs focused on the long term. We are at risk of losing a generation of young people. We must make sure they have access to education and skills training, and that they are engaged in discussions and plans for rebuilding the country.
Has the rhetoric in the United States during this presidential year hurt your aid efforts?
It hasn’t hurt our ability and capacity to provide aid; however, many refugees can’t believe this kind of rhetoric is coming from the U.S. Many of them still look at this country as a beacon of hope and light. They recognize that this country was built by immigrants. To have this kind of rhetoric is frankly astounding and it hurts our standing in the world.
Is the United Nations pushing hard enough for aid access in Syria? Is there a better way to push for aid access without the fear of jeopardizing access altogether or political process?
Yes, the UN should push harder and should insist that we provide humanitarian access from wherever, however it is most safe and effective. That means cross-border, if it has to come from Lebanon or Turkey or elsewhere. It means cross-line – if it has to come out of Damascus. That principle has already been encoded in UN Security Council resolutions; it just hasn’t been enforced yet. The UN should be joining with international non-governmental organizations and local Syrian organizations for convoys. This is the only way to reach the vast majority of people who have been impacted by this terrible crisis.
You mentioned that you hope the cessation lasts and becomes an enduring ceasefire. How long do we have to wait to see if this is a lasting ceasefire?
However long it takes until we can say that this is a durable cease-fire is too long. People have suffered too much. Now, almost five years. The numbers are staggering, when you think that almost 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Almost every Syrian has been forced to move to find safety. It is too long.
What is the next step? What can and should be done?
We need to do everything we can to transform this cessation of hostilities into a durable ceasefire that lays the groundwork for lasting peace.
Listen to the full audio of the news conference here.